Sport Soccer

Thursday 22 February 2018

Robbie wise to put spring back in step

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Baffling, baffling, baffling. What on earth drew Robbie Keane to Beverley Hills when he could have been living next door to the biggest crisp factory on the planet?

Inexplicable, isn't it? Didn't anybody tell him you can buy Range Rovers and patio heaters in the East Midlands, too?

Honestly, the outcry over his decision to forego loveable Sven and his Leicester City revolution for a reserved table with the Beckhams on Hollywood Boulevard has borne an air of epic sanctimony.

Instead of the half-lit graft of an English winter, he's had his head turned by gaping blue skies and palm trees.

So you're trying to figure what swung the deal? Might I recommend a visit to the nearest optician? It's Charlize Theron against Nanny McPhee for pity's sake. Poolside barbecues against drizzly months of endless dusk.

Robbie made a lifestyle choice. He chose, at 31, to stop climbing a mountain he no longer had any chance of conquering. His status in the English Premier League has been sliding ever since Rafa Benitez took him to Liverpool and, like someone over-protective of a new car, decided not to use him.

So the assumption had been that he'd dip down into the Championship where the charms of a marathon 46-game league would, clearly, re-fire the warrior within. What's not to like about a sleety Tuesday night at Doncaster?

It was certainly easy to imagine him scoring goals for Leicester and, potentially, spearheading a boisterous push for promotion. And they'd have loved him, if he did. Small English towns never forget their goal-scorers. If Robbie played his cards right, he'd have been bigger there than Adrian Mole.

But he might have burnt himself out too. He might well have found that the sheer relentlessness of a Championship schedule thieved the elastic from his legs and left him looking old and over-worked and, almost inevitably, contrary.

God gifted Robbie a small multiple of things, but pace was never among them. Had it been, he'd have become a global superstar. Knowledgeable football men often talk of Keane as a kind of unfinished masterpiece. In terms of balance, quickness of eye and technical accomplishment, he scores a perfect 10.

But, having bequeathed those gifts, the Almighty then seemingly pulled a face, put that Cosworth engine back on the shelf and pulled down the insides of a Hillman Imp.

Even at his best, Robbie never skinned defenders. True, he could bamboozle them. But there was never a day he just pinned his ears back and took a man out by the fire in his shoes. The fear he put in centre-halves was the fear of the unknown. His brain bought him yards his legs could never find.

So it seems to me that flogging those legs in the Championship mightn't exactly be the wisest thing.

The older a footballer gets, the smarter he needs to be with his body. For Keane, a move to Leicester would have brought exposure to three-times-a-week attrition. That and trying to get on the end of deliveries from Paul Konchesky, as distinct from a certain Mr Beckham.

Now I don't know if Robbie's the praying type, albeit his tattoos perhaps offer a hint. High on his left arm is a stark, inked image of two hands clasped around a rosary beads. On his right is some kind of Gothic cross.

But, in the early hours of Sunday, he looked at peace with the deities when darting onto Beckham's free-kick and scoring after just 21 minutes of his Galaxy debut. The trademark cartwheel was back, plus the smoking gun salute. La-La-Land was in rapture.

And Keane looked younger, as if -- overnight -- the Californian air had helped him shed his cares, like snakeskin.

Of course, it could be that he's just gone there for the money. The MLS is one of those bonkers leagues where the officer classes are paid wild multiples of those in the lower ranks. Robbie's strike partner on his debut, Adam Cristman, earns $42,000 a year. Half of what Keane will reputedly trouser in a week.


And, no question, the lifestyle in LA looks like it will sit just fine with his beautiful wife, Claudine.

But why are we so conditioned here to be derisive of a man who has scored more times for this country than Jurgen Klinsmann or the great Bobby Charlton did for Germany and England respectively?

In an age when international football seems such an inconvenience to so many, Keane has always approached it with the zeal of a vocation.

True, it would be nice if a little clarity was brought to Galaxy's position on any winter loan move back to Europe. Beckham's two Milanese sojourns didn't exactly sit easily with supporters in LA. And, in fairness, if you're paying $4.5m per annum for an ageing footballer, do you really want him moonlighting in someone else's shirt when, theoretically, he should be resting?

The hunch here is that, whatever the logistics of his winters, Keane probably understands that the younger, stronger Premier League legs of Shane Long and Kevin Doyle may soon restrict him to cameo status in the Irish dressing-room, irrespective of where he calls home.

Long has made a breathtaking start to life at West Brom and Doyle is, reputedly, still of interest to Arsene Wenger.

Robbie isn't young and he isn't stupid. There's only so much juice to be squeezed from any fruit and he's drawn more than most. What would you do in his shoes?

Fly to the City of Angels or go to war in an English winter?

Irish Independent

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